Break-through science backs that mānuka plant species is distinct to Aotearoa New Zealand

by | Jan 25, 2024 | News

A recent study comparing the DNA of Mānuka from Aotearoa New Zealand and Leptospermum scoparium, also known as jelly bush or tea tree, from Australia showed significant genetic differences between the two, enough for the researchers to recommend that the two plants should be called different species.

The recent study analysed 2,000 variable DNA markers called ‘SNiPs’ (single DNA letter changes) in the DNA from each plant from both New Zealand and Tasmania.

The research, undertaken by the Plant & Food Research, was peer reviewed by three independent international scientists.

Mānuka Charitable Trust Chair Pita Tipene says the research provides further evidence of what we have been saying all along – that Mānuka is a recognised taonga (treasure) under the Treaty of Waitangi, and its honey can only be sourced from and produced in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Mānuka is Māori word and tree that belongs to us. The expropriation of the name ‘Mānuka honey’ to a plant or natural product from outside Aotearoa New Zealand is taking the identity and associated epistemology of our culture – our knowledge and what we know and believe. It belongs to us and it is being taken and used in a way that’s misleading. What’s more, it’s ignoring the original names developed over thousands of years of history of the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia,” said Pita.

The researchers state that the results support mānuka as a single endemic New Zealand species with marked geographic provenances that have significant gene flow and variation largely due to environmental conditions. The researchers note the results have significant cultural and commercial implications, especially for products derived from each species, including honey.

“Genetic testing of mānuka previously had shown that there was a difference between those trees in New Zealand and those in Australia, so we wanted to understand more about the extent of these differences,” says Dr David Chagné.

“Analysing more than 2,000 points across the genome showed a clear separation between the two countries, with more than 9 million years since there was any real crossover between them. Whilst there are several distinct clusters in New Zealand, these have the normal genetic spread you’d expect from families spread across a wide geographic area. The two Australian clusters, while related to each other, are vastly different, and could potentially be genetically classified as different species.”

The Chair of the UMF Honey Association, Rob Chemaly says “Origin matters because people buy ‘Mānuka honey’ as they see the value in origin and terroir, particularly when it comes to natural products. Evidence supports the distinct health benefits of honey that comes from New Zealand’s Mānuka tree – not products derived from other origins.”


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